Dreams Do Come True, Part I: Phone call from the Redskins

ASHBURN, VA - JANUARY 09: Washington Redskins Executive Vice President and General Manager Bruce Allen speaks as Jay Gruden is introduced as the new head coach of the Washington Redskins at a press conference at Redskins Park on January 9, 2014 in Ashburn, Virginia. (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)
ASHBURN, VA - JANUARY 09: Washington Redskins Executive Vice President and General Manager Bruce Allen speaks as Jay Gruden is introduced as the new head coach of the Washington Redskins at a press conference at Redskins Park on January 9, 2014 in Ashburn, Virginia. (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images) /

One morning last September, my phone rang, “703-726-7000.” I looked at it and had a thought, “Is this the Redskins?”

I sort of recognized the phone number from all the times I had sent letters and books and whatever else to them throughout the years, hoping to land an opportunity. I started trying to get in with the Washington Redskins when I was 17 years old, and used to send letters out to former Redskins GM Charley Casserly. I’ve come close a half a dozen times in my life to getting in the door with my beloved Redskins. I bleed burgundy and gold, always have, always will.

I stared at the phone number for a split second and thought, “I think it is, I better answer this.”  My wife Samantha and I were laying in bed watching some sort of reality television show she likes. She loves reality television. I answered my phone, “Hello, this is Daniel.” The man’s voice on the other end of the phone exclaimed, “Good morning, it’s Bruce Allen from the Washington Redskins!” I leaped out of bed in my boxers and put the phone on speaker phone so my wife could hear. It was all happening so fast. “Hello Mr. Allen,” I responded. Oh my gosh.. it was the phone call I’d been waiting for my entire life! It’s the phone call I’d always thought I would get, the phone call I had always dreamed of getting from the time I was a little kid! Like a player on draft day, it was the call.

Mr. Allen continued, “I just had to call you. Somehow your book, Whatever it Takes, came to my attention. I picked it up and read the whole thing last night. How are you doing?” Half of me couldn’t believe this was real. Was this one of my friends pranking me? I looked back at the phone and saw the 703 area code again as a way of pinching myself. This was real. Oh my God, this was real. The President of the Washington Redskins was really on the phone with me. I responded, “I’m doing well, sir, I’m doing well,” and kind of let out somewhat of a nervous chuckle. He went on to say, “Good, I’m glad to hear that. How’s your health?” I said, “Good, my health is good.” He replied, “Good, I’m glad to hear that, I had read about how you went through that battle with testicular cancer and wanted to make sure you were alright.” I said, “Yes, yes sir, it was quite a thing to go through when I first got into the league, but yes, I’m healed to this day.” He said, “I’m really glad to hear that, Daniel.”

He went on to say, “I am really sorry about your daughter Bailey” (I talk in my book about her battle with Neuroblastoma cancer and how she passed away at age two on Christmas Day in 2001). “Thank you Mr. Allen, yeah, I miss her very much, she was a very special little girl, I really appreciate you saying that.” I was looking at my wife and she was looking at me as he was speaking like we couldn’t still believe this was actually happening. Allen continued, “Her name is pretty cool though, how you named her after Champ Bailey.” I let out another little chuckle, “Absolutely sir, she was an amazing little girl, glad you liked that part.”

I’m sorry, I had to pause for a minute to dry my eyes as I even write this. This is so super emotional for me to even reflect on this.

12 Sep 1999: Champ Bailey #24 of the Washington Redskins walks on the field during a game against the Dallas Cowboys at the Redskins Stadium in Landover, Maryland. The Cowboys defeated the Redskins 41-35. Mandatory Credit: Doug Pensinger /Allsport
12 Sep 1999: Champ Bailey #24 of the Washington Redskins walks on the field during a game against the Dallas Cowboys at the Redskins Stadium in Landover, Maryland. The Cowboys defeated the Redskins 41-35. Mandatory Credit: Doug Pensinger /Allsport /

It’s been one heck of a road for me in my life to even get to this point with going through cancer, losing my first born to cancer, losing my football dream when the NY Jets let me go, having one of my children go through a brain tumor, losing custody of four more of my miracle children, not to mention all the letters and books I’ve sent out all across the NFL for years and years and years, just trying to get a second chance, to no avail. My boy, Isaiah, survived after two major brain surgeries and he’s healthy as a horse to this day. He turns ten this March. He’s truly a medical miracle that doctors really can’t explain. There’s been a lot of other things that have happened as well, including a couple foreclosures, two divorces, you name it. It’s been one heck of a roller coaster ride and to be honest, when this call had come in from Bruce Allen, I had all but given up on it ever happening, but that’s of course when it happened.

“So what have you been up to, what have you been doing since the book ended,” he asked. I replied, “Just trying to do everything I can to get back into the NFL, sir.”

“Listen, I want to bring you out here and sit down with you and hear your ideas on what you think we should do,” Mr. Allen said. He continued on, “I don’t really know what caused me to pick up your book and read it, but I did and I want to meet with you. I really like how you persevered through everything you’ve been through, and I liked the part to when you cracked Mike Shanahan’s play scripting code.” Then he let out a laugh and said, “I really liked the part how you were still such a big Redskins fan even while you were working for the Jets! I stopped and asked myself what would I have done if I had a guy in our scouting department who loved another team like that; would have I fired him, or what would I have done,” and he let out another laugh. I responded laughing as well.

Allen went on to say, “That was really interesting. You’re such a big fan of the Redskins! Here’s what I’m thinking: I’m thinking of bringing you out here for the Alumni Weekend. That way you could meet all the guys again you grew up loving so much and get some more recent pictures and we could sit down and talk. How would you like that?” I exclaimed, “I would love that, sir. I would absolutely love to do that and meet with you!” He said, “Okay then, we’ve got to beat the Bears on Monday Night, but let me call you back next week and we can set it up.” I responded, “Sounds great Mr. Allen, you know you had said you don’t know what caused you to pick up my book and read it, but I’ve learned throughout the years, timing is everything, and I so much appreciate you calling me and I so much appreciate everything you are saying, I can’t wait and I look forward to hearing back from you.”

We said our goodbyes and my wife and I embraced. Holy smokes. Oh wow. Tears were in my eyes. This was actually happening. Suddenly, an idea came to mind: I needed to start evaluating and scouting. I had to come up with something to give to him. I had to put my ideas together. A thought came to mind that on NFL.com, they offered All-22 film access. I logged on and subscribed to it and the next day, I started.

I evaluated all the Redskins games during the season and started taking notes on all the players. It took a week to do and it turned into a fifty-page scouting report on all the starters, pertinent back-ups and special teams players. I included my idea in the report which I refer to as, “The Great Wall of Washington.” The idea has never been used in the NFL before. It features putting reserve offensive and defensive linemen all across the punt return line making it next to impossible for opposing punt units to get off the line of scrimmage and then putting two reserve linebackers closely flanking the punt returner as “body guards,” who could bounce those gunners as they came down inside, instead of them breathing down the punt returner’s neck and forcing fair catches all the time. I thought by doing this, it could really optimize and open up the return game.

I was sitting in my recliner the following Monday and just like he said, he called back. My phone rang, “703-726-7000.” This time I knew it was Bruce Allen. I answered all excited, “Hello Mr. Allen, how are you?!” Of course the team was coming off a very tough loss and he sounded understandably down in his voice. That’s the way everyone used to be at the Jets after a loss, too. I should have thought of that or remembered that when he called, but I was just too excited! I couldn’t contain my excitement!

He started in, “I was reading something this week I thought you would find interesting, Daniel. Did you know that Jason Garrett has a higher winning percentage than Bill Parcells?” I responded with a chuckle, “No, I did not know that, but it’s good to know, that one would really get someone on a game show!” He laughed in response and so did I. The phone was on speaker phone once again so my wife could hear everything. We just looked at each other and were smiling anticipating what he was going to say next. He asked, “So how many books have you sold?” I replied, “Probably like six-hundred or so, it’s a self-published book. It was harder to get a book published than it was to even get into the NFL in the first place!” We both chuckled again a little bit. Then he said, “So, what have you been up to?” I replied, “Mainly trying to sell the book and trying more than anything to get back into the league, sir.”

He said, “I’ve decided to bring you out here for our great Alumni weekend and give you the full Alumni package. Now I know you’re not technically an Alumni, but I want to give this to you. I really like your positive vibe and I really like your story of how you persevered through everything. That’s the weekend we play the San Francisco 49ers at home, the weekend of October 20th, I’m not sure if you want to check your schedule and make sure you are available that weekend?” I quickly responded in a split second, “I’m available!” Was he kidding? Of course I was available! I would have given up a trip to the moon that weekend to be there. “Great,” he replied, “I’ll have our people get in contact with you and set up all the arrangements. Can’t wait to meet you! I can’t promise you where it will go and what will come of it, but we’ll sit down and talk and see what comes of it.” I exclaimed, “Yeah, I can’t wait either. Wow, this will be great, thank you so much Mr. Allen!”

My wife and I embraced. It was happening. It was actually happening. I was going out to Washington for what would be a dream weekend! Later that day, I received an email from people at the Redskins to arrange the air and hotel. They wanted to know what size jacket I wore, something about a pre-game introduction! I could hardly believe it. I was on cloud nine. A thought came to mind: “I better start doing an advance scouting report on the Minnesota Vikings,” which was the next Redskins opponent on the schedule after the game against the 49ers. That way, I would have something current and something really relevant to hand to Mr. Allen when I met with him.

I had spent four years in Pro Scouting with the NY Jets and that’s what we did there. We did advance scouting reports on all the Jets upcoming opponents, filled with pertinent information and evaluations on all the players to help coaches in their game planning efforts. Every advance scouting report on an upcoming opponent takes somewhere between 70-90 hours of grinding through their previous games, taking a notebook filled with tiny chicken scratch notes and play diagrams and typing it all up into a presentable report form. “I had better get to work,” I thought.

Meanwhile, my wife Samantha said, “We better order some things for you to wear so you look good for your trip!” She decided to order a bunch of things for me to wear, Redskins tee shirts, sweatshirts, a jacket and a couple hats for my big trip as my birthday present. My birthday was right around this time on October 11th, just nine days before the game I was going to be at.

It was all happening so fast. I was soon going to be on my way out to Washington! I was filled with so many feelings. I was so excited. I was so nervous. I was trying to organize my thoughts and ideas I had that could help the Redskins win. We set up a make shift scouting station on our dining room table: A television, my computer, and a big notebook for the Vikings. I turned on the television and found the Vikings first game of the season, hit play, and began taking notes. At times, I had to stop the game for a moment and my eyes teared up as I was listening to all the NFL Films music on my headphones. I was envisioning what the weekend would be like, what meeting with Bruce Allen would be like. I was actually going out there to sit down with the President of the Washington Redskins, and he said he wanted my ideas. There was so much work to be done and so little time. I worked until all hours of the night.

Every Vikings game took ten to twelve hours to effectively evaluate. I’d watch a play over and over and over and over again trying to find the smallest of details that might be some sort of key to the Redskins winning this upcoming game against the Vikings. It didn’t take me too long to realize that the key to the game was going to be stopping their star running back Dalvin Cook. He was clearly a high-end, blue-chip talent who accounted for a big percentage of their offensive production running outside the tackles and with screen passes to get him to the outside and down the sidelines. I never thought much of Kirk Cousins to begin with and still didn’t. The more pressure they could take off of him with getting Cook going, the better the Vikings offense performed. Cousins might have changed helmets and added a couple zeroes to his paycheck, but he was still the exact same guy who made too many costly mistakes when the pressure was on or the game was on the line with the Redskins.

Offensively, it became pretty clear pretty fast that we’d have to get the ball out quickly given Minnesota’s two star defensive ends, featuring all-world defender Danielle Hunter. Wow, that guy looked like a force to be reckoned with. With our offensive tackle situation, which appeared to me to be marginal at best, I could see that Minnesota’s star defensive ends were going to be a real problem. I continued taking notes as the film played into the middle of the night. Samantha fell asleep nearly every night on the couch waiting up for me. I would look at our kitchen stove clock. It said like 1:30 A.M. or 3 A.M. or whatever it said. It didn’t matter. This was our shot. This was the moment I had been waiting my entire life for. I could sleep when I’m dead. I cracked open another energy drink.

This was an opportunity of a lifetime…